By Nate Jacobson
Here are ten must watch games of the group stage in chronological order:
1. June 8, Poland vs. Greece in Warsaw: The opening match of the tournament always has to be a must watch game. Expectations are growing for host Poland and they need to start off well against a defensively organized Greek team.
2. June 9, Germany vs. Portugal in Lviv: The Germans are one of the favorites of Euro 2012. Their Bayern Munich players were part of a heartbreaking Champions League final, and it will be interesting to see how they rebound in their first competitive match. Portugal will rely heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo to play up to his potential in an international tournament.
3. June 10, Spain vs. Italy in Gdansk, Poland: Two soccer giants in Group C square off in the first game of the group. Spain is becoming injury-plagued, but are still strong enough to defend their 2008 European crown. Italy looks to rebound from an embarrassing showing in the 2010 World Cup. This game is a rematch of the 2008 quarterfinals, when Spain prevailed in penalty kicks.
4. June 11, France vs. England in Donetsk, Ukraine: England gets their toughest challenge of the group stage right off the bat. France is on the upswing since their meltdown in the 2010 World Cup.
5. June 12, Poland vs. Russia in Warsaw: The odd makers have Poland and Russia as the top two teams in Group A. This match could determine first place in the group. Whichever team loses this match will face pressure going in the third and final group game.
6. June 13, Netherlands vs. Germany in Kharkiv: An old rivalry will be reignited in the second game of group play. An important match for both squads, as they view Portugal as a threat to finish in the top two in the group. If Germany and the Netherlands finish in the top two in Group B, don’t be surprised if they meet again in the final in Kiev.
7. June 14, Italy vs. Croatia in Poznan, Poland: These two countries are close by geography and talent. This match could decide who finishes second in Group C, with Spain as the clear favorite.
8. June 17, Portugal vs. Netherlands in Kharkiv: The two teams have a history and it isn’t pretty. Portugal and Netherlands played in the round of 16 of the 2006 World Cup, and Portugal won 1-0. However, the storyline of the match was the 16 yellow cards and four red cards between the sides. The physicality and tension could be matched especially if players like Pepe for Portugal, and Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel are on the pitch.
9. June 18, Italy vs. Ireland in Poznan: Yes, I included all three Italy matches. The reason this game makes the list is because of the Ireland coach. Giovanni Trapattoni played for Italy in the 1960s and managed the Azzurri during the 2002 World Cup. He has been the Ireland coach since 2008 and has employed the Irish to play Italian style soccer.
10. June 19, England vs. Ukraine in Donetsk: England’s last game in group stage, but the first of the tournament for striker Wayne Rooney. If Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck struggle in the first two games, Rooney might have to save England from elimination against the host Ukraine. It will be a rocking atmosphere in Donetsk, especially if Ukraine is still in contention for the quarterfinals.
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